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An internationally acclaimed modern dance company, Trey McIntyre Project has taken Boise, Idaho, as its home base and has won extraordinary popular support from the city. The Boise Bright Spot Project, launched in 2011 with a grant from ArtPlace, allowed the company to limit its touring to remain in Boise, where it engaged the community with the goal of making dance and dancers ever present. The aim is to generate local identity and pride equivalent to that fostered by the university football team. By working with everyone from restaurants and bars to hospitals and schools, the project shaped how this mid-sized city sees itself and presents itself as a creative beacon.

ArtPlace interviewed John Michael Schert, Executive Director, Co-Founder and Dancer with Trey McIntyre Project, for an upcoming video. Here’s a few excerpts from that interview, summarizing the TMP vision for creative placemaking:

SCHERT: The mission of Trey McIntyre Project is to nurture, support and produce the artistic vision of artist Trey McIntyre and engage individuals and communities in the experience of art.

The second half our mission statement, ‘…engage individuals and communities in the experience of art,’ speaks to the ideals of creative placemaking and audience engagement that Trey McIntyre Project has been developing since our very beginning, and it exemplifies our creative placemaking endeavors in our hometown of Boise, Idaho, collectively called Boise Bright Spot Project.

TMP believes that for a non-profit arts organization in the 21st century to survive, being a vital part of your community is essential. Boise Bright Spot Project encapsulates all the programs—beyond the stage—that TMP has created in Boise: performances on the street, going into workplaces, visiting hospitals and schools, being a visible role model in the community, and more. It’s about being a spokesperson for innovation and creativity within and without the city, like speaking at national conferences about Boise and the creative placemaking that is happening here. Boise Bright Spot Project is exactly who we are and in-person interactions with the people in our community are at the core of what we do.

For example, we developed SpUrbans—Spontaneous Urban Performances. They are like flash mobs in that we appear spontaneously in an urban setting and dance. When we appear, there is this jolt of creative, artistic energy. There is this moment in time, in a non-traditional setting, where TMP appears. And like a flash mob, SpUrbans incorporate the community. People are shocked in a good way, because they aren’t expecting it. Dance as an art form can be difficult for people—they observe it from afar and feel that they don’t completely understand what is being said. But sometimes dance just needs to be felt, to tap into a a primal place. SpUrbans are effective because we don’t give people time to pre-plan their emotional or intellectual approach to the dance. It just happens. When TMP was first named the City of Boise’s Economic Development Cultural Ambassador, we went before the City Council, and each member of the Council and the Mayor talked about the impact that TMP has had on the city of Boise. I remember the Council President Maryanne Jordan saying, ‘I don’t go out to dinner anymore without secretly looking around and hoping you guys are going to appear.’

Whether it’s in a school, a hospital, a workplace, or on the street, we build our relationships through one-on-one interactions. They are how we have integrated into the fabric of the community. People are often introduced to us through our onstage performances—we want to trigger the memory of emotions and feelings they had watching us perform and cement those feelings by creating other events in our community. The next time a TMP event is going to happen, whether it’s an onstage performance, a fundraiser or TMP appearing as part of some other event, we want the memory to be so strong, that one look at a TMP billboard or the TMP yellow is enough to trigger that memory and, without hesitation, people will say, “Yes, I want to be a part of that.’ That has to be what is instilled and triggers people to continue to want to be a part of what we are doing. We use the word ownership. Our community has a sense of TMP ownership.

I know we’ve made a difference with Boise Bright Spot Project. Economically, the city is using funds from the economic development fund for arts organizations. We’ve been named the Economic Development Cultural Ambassador from that fund two years in a row. This is earned income from the City of Boise, saying they recognize the value that TMP brings to this community. And the grant wasn’t created just for TMP but to fund multiple arts organizations. I see that reinvestment as a sign that we have made an impact in the way our community sees and perceives us as a voice, maybe even a catalyst for appreciating and funding the arts. The Morrison Center, which is the theater that we perform in, has an endowment foundation that now subsidizes user groups. That endowment already existed, but through TMP’s presence and lobbying, their funding criteria changed.

A lot of non-profit organizations are perceived by civic leadership as being needy. That is a common thing I hear from civic leaders around the nation and I think non-profits need to show up and propose ideas. Show up and say, ‘This is how we can make this a better place.’ We as artists and as arts organizations are the most creative people in the world. So why look to business or government to champion innovative ideas? We as artists should be the most creative force and we should be creating concepts and ideas that we then work to carry out in our community.

We love Boise and that love is reciprocated. I know this through my interactions with people in the community—whether they compliment the company, or tell me they saw our new, bright-yellow building on Warm Springs Avenue, or how much they love seeing the TMP banner at the airport when they fly in and out of Boise…or they share, on an individual level, how much TMP has affected them. That happens daily. It happens on a grassroots level, one person at a time.

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